Contemporary Japanese fiction is preoccupied with the relationship between tradition and the modern world. From a hierarchical society in which behavior was governed by a strict and unchanging code, Japan has changed to a Westernized culture in which for many people there are no moral and social guides. Some novelists now emphasize the need for retaining traditional Japanese values and customs even in a changing society. Others, such as Kenzabur e, accepting the loss of the old society, follow their characters in a search for individual standards.
The winner of both the Akutagawa Prize, while he was still a student, and later of the prestigious Tanizaki Prize, e has been critically praised for his work in various genres, including essays, short stories, and novels. His first significant work, the short story “Shiiku” (“The Catch”), published in 1958, revealed a sympathy with the outcast: The story deals with a black American airman whose plane crashes near a Japanese village during World War II. In 1963, e’s first child was born with a severe disability requiring surgery not unlike that described in A Personal Matter. Images of estrangement and deformity recur throughout his fiction, often in connection with the threat of nuclear annihilation—a foretaste of which e had when he went to Hiroshima in the early 1960’s to write about survivors of the atom bomb. Because he addresses problems which affect young people throughout the world,...
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